I was a big fan of the original Splatoon when it launched on the WiiU back in 2015, almost giving it the nod for my Game of the Year (https://megadads.org/2015/12/28/game-of-the-year-2015/https://megadads.org/2015/12/28/game-of-the-year-2015/). The act of Nintendo kicking off a new and successful franchise was something that we hadn’t had a lot of at the time and we all hoped that Splatoon would inject some new life into the fledgling console. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and no matter how fresh Nintendo’s new IP was, ultimately it’s reach was only so wide because the game was tethered to a system that many gamers actively avoided. Now, with the release of Splatoon 2, Nintendo has a smoking hot console that is all the rage to show off what this game is all about to the masses. But is this new Splatoon simply a retread of the original (like the recently released Mario Kart 8 Deluxe), or is there enough in here to satisfy veterans and new-comers alike?
Splatoon 2’s core experience is familiar to any who played the original game. All the game modes you love from before are here again and play very similarly. You won’t find many surprises in regards to controls or rules for splatting. Aim and paint just like before. While there are new gear load outs and special abilities that refine the experience, they are easy to figure out and utilize if you’ve ventured out with the original.
You begin the game in a city-like hub world complete with shops to purchase new gear, portals to various game modes, and a ‘Today Show-esque’ TV station where you can watch the game’s new mascots broadcasting the latest Inkling news to the denizens of this charming and colorful city of squids and octopi. But what is at first deceptively similar, you soon realize is tweaked and fleshed out in all the right places. There’s a food truck where you can purchase meals that activate timed skill and experience enhancements which you use in Turf Wars, there’s a local arcade which acts as a hub for the Switch local multiplayer feature, a shady back-alley office which leads you to my favorite new mode: Salmon Run, and even a cute little Urchin Merchant who will order you special gear that you see other squids sporting in the city square. All of these make for great additions that help Splatoon 2 feel like a complete package right out of the gate, unlike the bare-bones original which launched with the slimmest of features. Needless to say any nay-sayers who are dismissing Splatoon 2 as a half sequel need not worry. This game has added enough extra content and features to justify it’s number.
The aesthetic in Splatoon 2 is second to none and one of the main reasons I find this franchise so exciting. There is so much personality infused into the game that you’ll find yourself wishing there was more going on in this world and with these characters. The visuals are gorgeous and simple with bright colors and glossy squid hair that makes the screen absolutely pop in that classic Nintendo minimalistic beauty. Not only is Splatoon 2 a sight to behold graphically but in a complete design package, from the costume set designs to the Akihabara-style city architecture, to the funky and crunchy soundtrack. The game just bleeds cool and I love getting lost in this world.
Lurking Under the Surface
Splatoon 2 is not without flaws however and I found most of them to be surprising ones. First and most obvious to me is the fact that the very nature of the Switch controller design means there is no longer a second screen for your map. In the original WiiU game you would play on your television and your WiiU gamepad would serve as a mini map where you could keep real-time tabs on how your team was progressing in the match. Your gamepad mini map would display how much of the course was covered in your enemies paint so you knew exactly where to attack. You also used the gamepad’s touch screen to launch your character to precise points after respawning. In Splatoon 2 this is all delegated to a menu screen which means you have to click the “X” button to bring the map up and use a D-Pad command to launch to specific places. This works in practice but is much more cumbersome and means you are not able to check your progress without covering the gameplay up with a menu. I found myself only using this feature after I had been ‘Splatted’ and didn’t have to worry about concealing my character with a map screen. This to me is a great step back, as I utilized the gamepad map constantly in Splatoon One. Now this ability is handicapped by the lack of a second screen and I find myself barely using it at all which makes formulating strategy difficult and fundamentally changes how I approach each match.
Splatoon 2 also surprisingly highlights some of the Switch’s biggest flaws. I found myself completely incapable of playing in handheld mode, the position of the right thumb stick and the lack of any grips on the back of the console make for uncomfortable gameplay. I couldn’t play longer than ten minutes at a time as the fast-paced action required my hands to contort in ways that were very uncomfortable using handheld and would give my thumb intense cramps. The lack of a headphone jack on the controller is also a big miss as I’ve recently grown fond of playing games with my headphones on after my son goes to bed, and while I can use headphones in handheld mode, as I previously established, I cannot play this game in that way.
But the biggest and most glaring problem that Splatoon 2 shines a light on is Nintendo’s lack of any adequate online service. This game screams for voice chat especially in the new Salmon Run mode which has you and three friends (or strangers) battling waves of enemies across a consistently changing map to gain control of Golden Salmon Eggs all while racing against the clock. It is a super-fun experience that relies heavily on squad communication, and at the time of this review that means pushing up on the D pad to prompt a “This Way” command. Not good enough. While the Switch Online and SplatNet apps are both coming, they were not available yet, and I could go on endlessly about my opinions on delegating a party system to a phone app, but… that would not end well. I just feel like this game was the perfect opportunity for Nintendo to commit to a solid online experience, but when there is no way for me to send a friend request or a message of any kind to anyone in my squid squad after a great match… that is something that in this day and age is a huge bummer.
Sink or Swim?
All of these issues aside there is no denying that the very fundamentals of this game are so solid and the gameplay so fast and satisfying that you can’t help but love it. Splatoon 2 is a great pick up and play game when you’re short on time, and the perfect game to sink hours on end into (especially with the new modes to pad the experience). This is also one of the rare games that my wife enjoys playing with me as well, and she will be the first to say that twitch shooters are not in her wheelhouse. But the thing of it is is that Nintendo has crafted a game that is so easy and fun that even losing is enjoyable. You’ll find yourself saying “Well the team lost, but I was best ON my team!” or “Well, we got our ass kicked but at least I leveled up, and now I can go buy that new roller!“.
Splatoon 2 is great fun that improves on most of what made the original great, and only has to take a few side steps due to the limits of the Switch (and Nintendo’s inability to move forward in the online space). I will be spending my Summer running, swimming and splatting friends, family and strangers alike in this fantastic game.